Our family has been in transition a LOT lately. Actually, my little ones have hardly known anything else. In the first two years of my older son's life, we moved seven times. In the last eight months since leaving W. Africa, we have lived in 4 different houses and taken four cross-country trips, never staying in one place more than 3 months.

When people find out how much we have moved and traveled, they often make comments about the children. Comments like "It's good that little ones adjust so quickly!" and "I'm sure all that transition is much harder on you than on them." or "As long as they have Mommy and Daddy, they're happy!" I've heard these statements, or similar ones, over and over again.

But honestly, they're not always true. Usually the people talking have never moved their family overseas - often never moved their family at all! They don't realize that transition really IS hard on little people. Our toddlers and preschoolers don't understand what's happening. They don't know what's coming next. They don't have a good sense of time, and don't know whether we're just on a trip or moving permanently. They don't know why things are happening or the reasons behind the changes. All they know is that their safe, comfortable world has completely turned upside down, and it's very scary and unsettling.

Certain personalities and also certain ages/stages have a harder time handling changes than others. It also seems that multiple transitions close together - or a prolonged period of transition - are much harder to handle. (We feel that way as adults, too, right?!) We found that our 3-year-old did an excellent job of handling our first move from Africa to the States, and the first cross-country trip that we took soon afterwards. However, it seemed that the second move a short time later - although only a few miles away - was just one transition too many, and we suddenly had a LOT of emotions and difficult behavior to deal with.

So what can we do to help our little people through transitions? I certainly don't have it all figured out, and would love to hear your ideas! But here are a few things that have helped us survive:

1) Talk about EVERYTHING. Even a very young child that is not talking yet can understand more than you think. Prepare them for what is coming. Explain where you're going and what to expect. Of course how extensively you do this, and how far ahead of time, depends on the age of your child! But we have found a HUGE difference in how our boys handle a new situation when we explained everything ahead of time. Tell them what the sequence of events will be. Tell them about new people they will meet and new things they will encounter. Tell them what kind of behavior you expect from them. And then remind them as you go along - "Remember when I told you about my good friend Nancy? This is the lady I was talking about! Can you give Nancy a hug?" or "Now we're going down the long tunnel to the airplane. Remember we talked about this tunnel? In just a minute we will see the airplane!" Do this with your 18-month-old too, not just your four-year-old. It WILL help!

kids transition

2) Give them grace, but keep your boundaries. Emotionally, your children are going through a lot, and you need to give them extra grace. You may see behavior that you've never seen before. Don't be shocked or angry, and don't be too hard on them. Remember they don't know what's going on, they're out of their comfort zone, they're scared, tired, hungry . . . give them GRACE and lots of love. But at the same time, remember that for little people, boundaries equal security. So don't just throw all your rules and expectations to the wind! Be reasonable - keep your expectations lower than normal - but don't add to their insecurity by allowing behavior that they KNOW is wrong.

3) Stay calm. I know this is easier said than done, because let's face it, transition is stressful for all of us! But we all know that children sense our stress. Even infants seem to know when Mommy is upset. Your impatience, anxiety, nervousness, or frustration will only add to your child's insecurity. Make a point of keeping your face pleasant and your voice calm, so that you can be a safe shelter for your little ones.

My fourth suggestion has to do with routines, but it's such a big one that I'm going to save it for part 2 of this article! in the meantime, do you have any tips or ideas to add to my list? Share in the comments below!

Leave your comments

Post comment as a guest

Load Previous Comments